(Un)Healthy in the city: Respiratory, Cardiometabolic and Mental Health Associated with Urbanity


Research has shown that health differences exist between urban and rural areas. Most studies conducted, however, have focused on single health outcomes and have not assessed to what extent the association of urbanity with health is explained by population composition or socioeconomic status of the area. Our aim is to investigate associations of urbanity with four different health outcomes (i.e. lung function, metabolic syndrome, depression and anxiety) and to assess whether these associations are independent of residents' characteristics and area socioeconomic status.


Our study population consisted of 74,733 individuals (42% males, mean age 43.8) who were part of the baseline sample of the LifeLines Cohort Study. Health outcomes were objectively measured with spirometry, a physical examination, laboratory blood analyses, and a psychiatric interview. Using multilevel linear and logistic regression models, associations of urbanity with lung function, and prevalence of metabolic syndrome, major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder were assessed. All models were sequentially adjusted for age, seks, highest education, household equivalent income, smoking, physical activity, and mean neighborhood income.


As compared with individuals living in rural areas, those in semi-urban or urban areas had a poorer lung function (β -1.62, 95% CI -2.07;-1.16), and higher prevalence of major depressive disorder (OR 1.65, 95% CI 1.35;2.00), and generalized anxiety disorder (OR 1.58, 95% CI 1.35;1.84). Prevalence of metabolic syndrome, however, was lower in urban areas (OR 0.51, 95% CI 0.44;0.59). These associations were only partly explained by differences in residents' demographic, socioeconomic and lifestyle characteristics and socioeconomic status of the areas.


Our results suggest a differential health impact of urbanity according to type of disease. Living in an urban environment appears to be beneficial for cardiometabolic health but to have a detrimental impact on respiratory function and mental health. Future research should investigate which underlying mechanisms explain the differential health impact of urbanity.

year of publication



  • PLoS One.


  • Zijlema, WL
  • Klijs, B
  • Stolk, RP
  • Rosmalen, JG.

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